Nearly a month has transpired since the events that transformed the otherwise quiet suburban city of La Mesa into the center of civil unrest and little has been done or said in regards to police reform there.
Meanwhile, new data shows La Mesa’s Police Department rarely required officers to undergo training after they were reported to have used force on suspects.
In the days following the death of George Floyd in MInneapolis, a young man, Amaurie Johnson, said a La Mesa police officer racially profiled him, later using what he considered to be unnecessary and excessive force. Two days later, as demonstrations overtook the small San Diego suburb, demonstrator Leslie Furcron was shot in between her eyes with a bean bag round fired from a police officer’s shotgun.
In the days following, La Mesa’s elected officials and its police chief promised to investigate the incidents in order to determine whether the arrest or use of force were justified. In the case of Johnson’s arrest, city leaders committed to hire a third-party to investigate.
NBC 7 Investigates asked the mayor and police department about the status of those investigations. Lieutenant Greg Runge told NBC 7 that the department expects to have the outside investigation into Johnson’s arrest within two weeks. As for the bean bag shooting of Furcron, the department did not provide an update.
However, a closer look at use of force reports by police officers in La Mesa reveals the department rarely investigates an officer's use of force.
Since 2016, La Mesa Police Officers have documented 142 instances where officers used force on suspects, according to records requested by NBC 7 Investigates. Types of force used varied from officers employing arm bars on suspects, to officers punching suspects “with closed fists,” to officers firing tasers, bean bag rounds, and firearms at those suspected of crimes.
Of the 142 use of force incidents since 2016, all but 23 or less than 17%, were considered “within policy with no training needed.” The remaining 23 required discussions with officers. Only two use of force incidents prompted further investigation.
The data does not include reports taken after March 24, 2020. It was during the following week when 21-year-old Amaurie Johnson was detained by officer Matthew Dages as Johnson stood waiting for friends outside of their La Mesa apartment building.
Bodycam footage of Johnson’s arrest made public after the May 27 incident shows officer Dages repeatedly pushing Johnson down after he tries to stand up and go with his friends. Dages arrested Johnson for battery on a police officer. Those charges have since been dropped.
Johnson’s attorney told NBC 7 that he nor his client have received any word from the La Mesa Police Department.
“Nothing,” said attorney Troy Owens. “Here we are, a month from the incident and absolutely nothing has been done as it relates to the unlawful action against Amaurie Johnson and that is completely unacceptable.”
Added Owens, “The claimed allegiance to transparency appears to be nothing but fluff. We have a right to that information. We want to know what’s going on.”
To hear more on the arrest of Amaurie Johnson, listen to NBC 7 Investigates' podcast in which the team spoke to Johnson about the incident.
Video of Johnson’s arrest went viral. Two days later hundreds of protestors congregated in La Mesa, overtaking city hall and commandeering the interstate near city hall. Hours into the demonstration, police shot a bean bag round at protestor Leslie Furcron after video showed Furcron throwing a can and yelling at police. The bean bag struck Furcron in the forehead. Volunteers rushed to her side and she was transported to a hospital where she was placed into an induced coma as a result of swelling of her brain.
Attorney Dante Pride represents Furcron. Pride says he has a video showing officers shooting non-lethal projectiles from high above crowds.
“The officers who were using these rounds were poorly trained or they were doing it purposely,” said Pride. “Both are problematic.”
La Mesa Police Department’s training materials obtained by NBC 7 show that officers are trained to aim below the waist when using non-lethal projectiles such as bean bag rounds.
Pride told NBC 7 that he has hit dead-ends in each attempt to obtain the name of the officer who fired the bean bag round that hit Furcron. He has since petitioned the court for help.
“My client almost died,” said Pride. “She was in a medically induced coma for 7 days. We deserve to know who fired that round and if that person is still working. Our communities have been impacted by over-policing and by aggressive policing.”